Back when Robert Pollard's liver was pinker, Guided By Budweiser earned its cult stripes with a foolproof formula: It created jillions of lo-fi, anthem-baiting sketches that recalled mid-period Beatles/Who, sported intentionally vague lyrics and rarely exceeded two minutes. Pollard hasn't stopped honoring his forefathers of the British Invasion -- he still bows and scrapes to Her Majesty's tastiest power chords -- but these days he's letting the songs breathe longer. And rendering them cleaner. The pseudo-ponce-inflected accent hasn't gone anywhere (demonstrating the easiest way to pick Daytonites out of a crowd), and when bandmembers come and go (nearly forty have twirled through the group's revolving door), it leaves a fella perplexed about his very beechwood-aged existence.
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Out with the phone books, the hunting knives, the kicking of elves: Pollard has turned a brutal eye on himself. He's a one-man fighter squadron on a mission, a stubborn wordsmith on a permanent bar stool. "How's My Drinking?" highlights Isolation Drills as an uneasy confessional -- funny enough to grace bumper stickers but guaranteed to make a den mother good and MADD. Most of the time the sound is happy-go-bombastic, recalling the explosive arena days of BIG rock. Pollard continues to master metaphor and wit with stealth and understatement. He's preoccupied with corporeal sensations, too: light passing through himself, bodily fluids such as ink and wine. You know -- poetry.
No fewer than three instant classics ("Fair Touching," "Chasing Heather Crazy" and especially "Run Wild") clear the tarmac for war stories about poker-faced bingo players, predatory love and finding solace in times of martial law. It's a good listen from stern to helm, but most amazing at this point in Pollard's career is that he actually expects to break into the FM rotation! In a perfect world, things like that would happen all the time -- stodgy program directors would branch out from the mighty Zep -- but this is war, soldier. Buck up!
Pollard pulls off plenty of smaller miracles, though: Throwback acoustic palate-cleansers like "Frostman," chamber-accompanied balladry ("Unspirited," "Privately"), glorious squall and drone ("Pivotal Film"), and pop so perfect that it's annoying ("Glad Girls"). Turning soil where scenesters fear not tread but classic-rock fans stomp, the man who came to prominence declaring "I Am a Scientist" benefits greatly from producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith). In contrast to its previous gloss-induced effort, Do the Collapse (a lukewarm project during which Ric "Candy" Ocasek purportedly barred beer coolers from the studio), Drills finds GBV's frontman at his pickled best. Alone in a rental at 43. Endorsing Converse and Wiedemann's lager. Blah blah genius, blah, masterpiece, blah.